Another year, another Remembrance Day, another manufactured ‘poppygate’ debate. More media time was devoted to discussing the merits of football players wearing poppies, than was spent questioning Cameron’s motives in pushing for NATO intervention in Libya.
With each year that passes, politicians and media pundits grow ever shriller in their promotion of the poppy as some kind of national symbol, apparently standing for our national heritage, patriotism and obligatory respect for dead soldiers. Yet often, it is those who shout the loudest about wearing the poppy who have the most blood on their hands.
As politicians bin their poppies and get back to the day’s business of boosting troop numbers in Afghanistan and oiling arms sales to dictatorships, why are why growning numbers of ordinary people becoming alienated from the poppy’s significance?
The remembrance poppy we see today has been used since 1920 to commemorate soldiers who have died at war. First used in the US to remember soldiers who died in WW1, now they are worn in mainly current and former commonwealth countries to commemorate service men and women who’ve died since 1914.
Remembrance commemorations have always been controversial; from as early as 1919 when returning soldiers were appalled by what they saw as the glorification of a squalid and meaningless loss of life.
In the past poppies would just be worn on Remembrance Day, but in recent years public figures, from politicians to journalists have vied to flaunt their patriotic credentials by sporting the lapel ornament earlier and earlier, while media organisations are bombarded with letters of complaint if they allow so much as a weather forecaster to appear without one.
Where we stand
It’s tragic when a working class 18 year old, driven by economic pressures into the military, is injured or dies on the job. But we must also remember that even in this case, those living in the countries they invade, who suffer death and destruction, often did not choose to go to war. It was forced upon them, by the very richest people in the Western world sending orders to the very poorest. We support those suffering from imperialist invasion to fight back against oppression. We support the right of soldiers to defy the orders of their officers.
The profits raised from sales of poppies go to The Royal British Legion, a charity which raises money to provide support for injured soldiers and their families. In the 21st century wars, an increasing number of soldiers are surviving injuries which would have been fatal just a few decades ago. This has meant the cost for supporting ex-personnel has rocketed, with the government increasingly unwilling to stump up for the intensive support required for its soldiers, many of whom suffer from mental health problems and multiple amputations.
However the British Legion is actually run by some of the same people responsible for the lives and limbs lost by the serving solidiers they claim to help. Not only is their national patron the Queen of England, but their National President Sir John Kiszely was Senior Military Representative during the Iraq war, and had to give evidence to the recent public enquiry.
For those that want to prevent imperialist wars for oil, and remember those who were killed by British troops as well it’s easy to see why we can’t wear the Royal British Legion’s money-spinning poppy. Which, let’s face it, is as much about British nationalism as it is about helping the needy. The symbolism of the poppy is not encapsulated by the individual’s reasons, but by the attitude of those who promote it, those who profit from it, and ultimately those who flaunt it while continuing to send young people to kill and be killed all across the world.
Anti-imperialists remember the sacrifice of millions in imperialist war by fighting against it – not just on armistice day, but all year round.